The Vagueness of Security – on what factors does it really depend?

This paper wants to investigate the current opinions about achieving “security” and how much these opinions are consistent with the main theories regarding peace building.

“Security” is a theme of which we hear very often and it is surely linked with the public communication from opinion makers and political leaders especially during electoral campaigns. There is also in general an agreement among international policy makers that they need to create more security (in the community, in the Nation, in the region, etc.) So we keep hearing about national and international security but the terms itself seems to remain a bit vague. We know that promising more security is instrumental to gaining public support; but what does the word really mean? And what are the policies that really ensure this security? How can we differentiate between those which create a perception of security and those which create real security?

Most world governments try to prove to their citizens that they are actively engaged in building greater security by devoting a big section of national resources to police and military spending. But is there a direct link between the capacity of availing of violent means and security? And what are the linkages between “obtaining security”, ‘ensuring justice’ and ‘creating peace’? But are peace and security related? And if they are, do they have a virtuous relation or a vicious relation? Can a policy on military strengthening really ensure a sustainable security in international relationships?

In this research we made a survey of the current opinions about achieving “security” and we have found out that there exists in the media an opinion that over simplifies security and not only takes away the link between security and peace, but it often argues that military strength guarantees security. This opinion seems to be in clash with the human security approach which the social sciences and arts teach us.

In this essay I will have a look on current thoughts and policies on security, put them in relation with observation and conceptions I have gathered from my research and with some theories on peace, justice and development developed till date.

What is Security?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, Security is “the state of being free from danger or threat”. Wikipedia, very interestingly, gives a very different meaning and states that Security “is the degree of protection against danger, damage, loss, and criminal activity”.

This difference in words is not as small as it may seem; for the psychological outcomes coming from what the meanings convey, are completely different. The feeling of security is psychological and as such, the meaning we understand by this term will determine the approach we have on how to ensure the security of something.

If my security is a “degree of protection”, it means that there is something of mine that someone wants to take away from me. How can I stop him? “I will ensure that he does not have the capacity to lay his hands on it! I will make it so secure that there can be no infiltration.” This approach leads to a defensive way of looking at security which is based on a continuous lack of trust in others and a presupposition of jealousy and desire of appropriation.

“A state of being that is free”, conveys a psychological understanding which is not bound towards the protection of something through enclosure but sees security as a logical outcome of openness. To be secure is be capable of creating contexts that enable you to be in a state of freedom. When security is seen as a state of being, it is taken from a purely psychological level to a level where it is a harmony between different forces, both internal and external, converting the defensive attitude of protection (protecting that one factor which ensure security), to understanding security as a something enabled by a combination of factors. Factors which per se don’t ensure security but when cooperating and acting together enabled the possibility of a secure society, a secure home.

I think both the meanings given above have a problem. If we define security as a “the state of being free from danger or threat” it feels that we have defined security in spiritual terms and when we bring this understanding to political policies, we might get lost in a beautiful utopia. The second meaning is making the mistake of reducing security only to material terms and only influenced by one factor that needs to be protected.

Theories and Promises of Security – Capitalism, Afghanistan and Human Security

Different systems, different economic models, different people, give security a different meanings, which depends on the standpoint from where they look. In the financial sector, securities refer to bonds with a financial value, in the IT sector you have network security, data security, and then you also have food security, airport security. In the social and political sphere, there is a tendency of looking at security at two levels: (1) Traditional Security, which is divided in International Security and National Security, and (2) Human Security

Traditional Security: Many social scientists define traditional security as a state-centric view of security. Policies and action must ensure the security of the state, once the state is secure its citizens will automatically be secure. By conceiving security as having the nation state as locus, this view on differentiates between two territorial spaces and the people residing in this territory: the “us” (the territory, resources and the citizens inside the nation state) and the “them” (territory, resources and people outside our nation state) in relation with the “us”. The security concerned with the former dimension is linked with National Security, the one concerned with the latter, is linked with International Security.

National Security: is often understood as the requirement to maintain the survival of the nation-state through the use of economic, military and political power and the exercise of diplomacy. The best example of national security methods are exemplified in the American policies, where a major focus is given to military security, which is achieved through ‘escalation domination’ – atomic bombs, disinformation, intelligence agencies, strategic alliance and maintenance of status quo.

International Security: is instead understood as measures taken by nations and international organizations, such as the United Nations, to ensure mutual survival and safety of all nation states. These measures include military action and diplomatic agreements such as treaties and conventions.

The prevalence of this view on security reached a peak during the Cold War. For almost half a century, since the WW2, major world powers entrusted this type of security. As Cold War tensions receded, it started becoming clearer that the security of citizens was threatened by hardships arising from internal state activities as well as external aggressors. Civil wars were increasingly common and compounded existing poverty, disease, hunger, violence and human rights abuses. Traditional security policies had effectively masked these underlying basic human needs in the name of state security. Through neglect of its constituents, nation states had failed in their primary objective, to secure the individual.

Human Security: Human security holds that a people-centred view of security is necessary for national, regional and global stability. This concept was articulated in different forms since many centuries, but its strong advocacy in today’s world emerges from a post-Cold War, multi-disciplinary understanding of security involving a number of research fields, including development studies, international relations, strategic studies, and human rights.

Human security is an emerging paradigm for understanding global vulnerabilities whose proponents challenge the traditional notion of national security by arguing that the proper referent for security should be the individual rather than the state. But who are these individuals, how large is that community which the term ‘individual’ connotes? Global threats today, are poverty, environmental degradation, and terrorism and not the traditional security threats of interstate attack and warfare. But whose poverty are we looking at. Does poverty have a regional boundary? Does security have a regional boundary?

Traditional security is founded on the idea that I must defend myself, where the “me” is more important and comes before the “them”. Before analysing the above questions I would like to first look into the promises of security which were made by certain people in the context of an economic policy, capitalism, and in the context of war, Afghanistan.

The Promises of Capitalists and the Afghanistan War

One of the ways to define Capitalism is to say that it is an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for maximising profit. What is the promise that many believers in this system give? That it is possible for everyone to be rich if they only work hard enough and utilize resources to their best potential. How do they promise security in this system? Well, if you have money and control over resources you are safe, you can ensure your security (your nation state’s security); and the more money and control you have the safer you are. What do I do then? I gather and gather, accumulate and accumulate as much monetary funds as possible and enforce and ensure my authority over the resources that allow me this accumulation. But wait, didn’t the very economic basis of this system teach us that resources are limited? Well, then the only way to accumulate beyond my necessity is to take resources from other people’s resources. What a great idea! I make myself more secure by making the other less secure. But of course, no one except me likes or wishes to have security.

On a bright early winter day in 2000 the crash of two planes into the symbol of the American power and dream unscrewed the nuts of the laid back rocking chair. “I did everything” reflected some USA policy makers. “I have control over most of the world resources, out of which most of them are not even in my territory, I have control over the policies of most nation states outside mine, I have the greatest military straight, I have the strongest and most powerful weapons, I have the latest technology, the richest economy … I have the power to destroy the whole world, to destroy existence. How could MY bolt get unscrewed? It is just not possible; I did everything right, so right that the very chapter on the best practices towards National and International security of the Capitalist manual is me”. Something somewhere failed. Was there a failure of the Capitalist promise of security?

The non-acceptance of a failing approach to security lead to the most obvious excuse. “It is not because of us, it is because of their madness, theirs! And we need to save ourselves from such madness!” The choice made by Bush was the most obvious, the easiest, the most automatic one out of all of those, which his intellect could have chosen. “They attack us, we will take revenge. We will ensure our safety by attacking them in their country.” This brilliant idea paved the path the only war in the world history that was never really visible to all of us. We just knew it was there. The war on Terrorists and their ideology “Terrorism”, a drama which had only us as the actors on this stage. “It is interesting” says Tiziano Terani on an online interview of his “how in old Greek tragedies when stories of war were narrated to the public, both sides conveyed their arguments, their emotions, their feelings and the public was able to relate to them” and then conceptualize what the ‘right’ decision was. But now we are much beyond that, our civilization has reached levels where the ‘right’ is known “a priori”; so we don’t need two sides to a story. “We are the public, we are the directors and we are the actors. We are the story, and ours is the only story!” as he says.

From this research, the failed promise of capitalists is that safety of a person and a nation state cannot be ensured through maximising individual profits (accumulation of resources, military power and control over resources), for we can never ensure our safety by negating the safety of others. The failed promise of Bush on Afghanistan is that revenge, hate and war on your enemies have not created a safer USA nor a safer world, not for ‘them’ nor for ‘us’.

The whole Afghanistan operation was advertised as a great revenge where the promise was to ensure security to all western citizens. But is revenge the greatest expression of our civilization, it is one of those attributes we call virile? No. All our tradition, from the Greek tragedies or Buddha, civilization is overcoming our vengeance and ensuring justice, peace and security in all the people in society.

Internal Security vs External Security – can we really differentiate?

In the interviews that I did two very interesting points came forward. Most people differentiated between internal security and external security. Now, when they spoke about internal security they believed that military strength was not a factor which lead to such security, but on the contrary, it could sometimes play a negative role, as Malini Gupta says, “for what the military conceives as security may not be what people understand security as”, just like in Kashmir, I could add. What I understood was that Internal security was dependent on Human Security, by creating a social and political structure where people have “freedom from fears” and “freedom from wants”, in Amaratya Sen’s words. Basic human liberties, rights, dignities, access to resources, equal opportunities, access to quality education, were among some of the factors which lead to internal security, according to my research. “The Constitution asserts the relationship between public order and the liberty of a citizens”, said Marta Ferrari, but it is important to understand that “there cannot be public order if we do not ensure the liberty of an individual”.

But what happened when they started talking about External Security, about that security which is dependent on external forces and nation states and which is directly related to our resources and our territory? They moved from a human view of security to a structural view of security, and the whole prospective changed. External security did not depend anymore on an inclusive view of resource sharing, of opportunities and of liberties. A dichotomy was been established here; there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them’. Human security can only work among ‘us’, but when security enters a dimension of ‘us’ in relationship with ‘them’, “military strength” becomes one of the most important factors, if not sometimes the ‘necessary’ factor. This means that the stronger ‘our’ military threats the more external security ‘we’ have.

My question here is “what is the boundary of the ‘us ”? In a globalizing world, were we are divided by legal boundaries but where we share a common home, a common environment, and a world where international systems are too interconnected for the state to maintain an isolationist international policy, can we really distinguish between internal and external security? Or does the ‘we’ encompass a web of relationships which we may be larger than the nation state, that maybe we could call the ‘human community’?

Does our success to maintain security dependent on our capacity to ensure the security of others?

Perceived Security vs Real Security

The fear of earthquakes has been reported to be more common than the fear of slipping on the bathroom floor although the latter kills many more people than the former. Similarly, the perceived effectiveness of security measures is sometimes different from the actual security provided by those measures. For example, two computer security programs could be interfering with each other and even cancelling each other’s effect, while the owner believes s/he is getting double the protection.

Perceived security is a concept that the advertising industry uses very often to seduce people to buy a product. I use the word seduce because the add targets a lack knowledge and awareness on the product and emphasis on emotional or sensual appeal. There is in fact a term known as “Security theatre”, these are measures aimed at raising subjective (perceived) security in a population without a genuine or commensurate concern for the effects of that measure on real security. To give a perception of security is to create a feeling in the individual of security, a feeling which does not depend on real data, real contexts, real causes, effect and reasoning, but like all advertisement, depends on how the individual feels. On how best can you appeal to her emotions, reduce awareness and emphasise less on rational thinking.

During history most political policies and official speeches that have argued to explain why a country must enter into war have been based on creating a perceived feeling of security and of how to be safer we must enter into war – just like in Afghanistan. It is true, there have been wars which were believed to be fought for ‘justice’, for a more truer, just and sustainable future, but for who? For us in the nation state or for us as a human community? Can real security focus only on nation states and its citizens or must it look at the interdependence of humanity and human beings?

All the wars in the world have been started with the promise to create justice, enable peace and promise security. But a security from whom, justice for whom, peace for whom. And, if we win the war, will we be really ensured all these three promises? Will we create a society capable of ensuring these three promised?

The difference between Perceived security and Real security seems to be that the former is a feeling and rational which enables non-sustained contexts of security which are only subjective. The latter instead tries to aim at creating sustainable contexts, which do not facilitate the emergence of violence and foster a feeling of security that grows with time. Real security needs to be both tangible and emotional.

The Endless War for the Endless Peace

Na hi verena verāni sammantīdha kudācanaṃ , Averena ca sammanti esa dhammo sanantano -Dhammapada 1.5
(This is the perennial law: it is not trough violence that we can end violence; it is only love that has the power to terminate violence)

Have we ever seen in history a great violence giving end to great violence? Maybe it is true, violence is not the solution to end violence, maybe hate can really only create hate. Roberto Basile, a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist, in his interview told me “ I feel uncertain and frightened in front of weapons and their power of destruction.” Is this a feeling of security? But more importantly, whose security is it fostered through war? Prof. Paul, a scholar in the field of peace and conflict studies, said to me that “Human security has little to do with military strength”. The question which then comes to my mind is: whose security are we looking to promote? The human security or the notion state security? And, does human security enable nation state security or does the nation state security enable human security?

Till 1945 men and women have always killed people who were their similar. Wars were always among civilizations, kingdoms, of people vs people; but from 1945 men have had the possibility to destroy the very balance of nature and her elements and our war has expanded. Now we are not anymore able to just chop heads, but we are now able to destroy the very environment that keeps us alive. We are now in conflict with all that on which we depend, we have even come to a point where we are able to destroy ourselves as a species.

In such a scenario, the protection of nation state makes very little sense to me. If India and Pakistan go to war to ensure the safety of their nation state, both will probably annihilate each other with their nuclear power. Slowly the all the relationship between nation states is reaching this balance of “its better for me not to attack, if I want to be safe”. 9/11 is only one of many examples to show how we cannot use force to ensure our peace.

Marta Ferrari, who lived through WW2 in Italy, said, “War leads to the loss of all moral values, it infiltrates like a virus and slowly eats up all personal, social and political spheres”. How can a loss of moral values lead to greater security, when morality is an attribute that fosters security? How can an illness be a representation of security? If this is what war leads to, and if war can only be fought with military strength, how can military strength lead to security?

Security in terms of Justice and Peace

In the world today, military spending in the world is five times higher than spending on development, according to the documentary ‘Home’. When we look at a world where we are inter-dependent on survival and growth, where we have the possibility of annihilating ourselves, where we share a common environment and its limited resources, security seem to depend more on peace than on military strength. In my interviews everyone agreed that security depends on peace and when asked about security as dependent military strength 50% said that it does not depend at all and 50% said it partially depends on military strength; but all of them believed on a relationship between Justice, Peace and Security. What does this relationship mean?

“Applying justice is the very first element from which the other two descend” said Roberto Basile; and Prof Paul added that “Peace without justice in not sustainable, and peace without human security is cold peace”.

Justice seems to be a fundamental element of security. But what is justice? Wikipedia defines justice as the concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, fairness, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics. “Justice is important because security must be holistic and to all levels of society” said Madhav Tankha, a student of Sociology; “State actions (and policies) devoid of justice will only escalate insecurity and further conflict”, said Sunitha Rangaswami, a Development Professional; “ justice and security are connected because of the legal system” said Radhe Jaggi, a classical Indian dancer.

When people believe in Justice it seems they move towards sustainable processes, actions and decisions. Sustainability comes when each individual feels and sees that the world is providing her with a chance to live life, in its challenges and joys. Just policies aims at creating freedoms for people, in giving them equal opportunity, in sharing resources and profits, creating environmental balance, in ensuring that people and structures are accountable, in seeing people and nation states in the world as equals and with the same right to live. When we act justly we create a joy for life, it is this joy for life which creates peace, for peace, as Marta Ferrari said “peace needs the capacity to forgive”, to see the our life in relation to theirs.

According to Tiziano Terzani, “we understand war when we are able to relate with the person affected by the war, the direct victim or her mother, her father, her lover. When we are able to relate to the love, the humanity that was destroyed by the war”. It is when we relate to this humanity, when we put ourselves in that position that we see the need to forgive, to be just. “There is enough in the world for every man’s need and not greed” said Gandhi; it is this capacity to see the necessity of others which enables peace. When we have peace, can we achieve security

As Roberto Basile said, “Only peace guarantees that atmosphere which we truly experience as peace as a sense of freedom for the mind, our initiatives and creativity. Otherwise we live more in a state of constant apparent calm which is in fact a perennial state of tension of control of the enemy” and coming from a psychoanalyst is very important, since security is a psychological feeling.

Public opinion, Opinion makers and Policy Makers

If the above opinions and arguments are correct, then security of a state depends on its people and the security of the people are interwoven across the world and depend on the society’s capacity to be just.

Why then, when we hear the word ’security’ being spoken about we never hear the word ‘peace’ in conjunction with it? Why don’t the opinion makers and political leaders make such relation even if most social scientists of today agree that human security must be at the centre of policy making? Why do we only hear the word military strength in conjunction with security? And if opinion makers don’t do this, how will the public opinion be empowered with the knowledge to influence political leaders correctly?

Luca Vicenzotti, an Ingeneering student in Italy says that “The public is not well informed”. If public leaders are taking decisions that may lead to perceived security and not real security, how can an uninformed public influence such decisions intelligently? As Tehmina Abbas, a young Development Professional, says “you need public pressure to change political leaders“, a pressure which comes, as believes Luca “though good journalism and education”. We need to take the public from the ‘security theatre’ cause by ignorance to the ‘house of awareness’.

“Opinion makers need to use a strategic campaign across the nation to raise awareness in the public of the costs of war and the consequences. And since what is said is as important as who says it, these opinion makers must not belong to one class but different social structures, dimensions, contexts must have their opinion leaders communicating to their public. Only the awareness of people can influence the foreign and military policy” Sunitha Rangaswami told me. Madhav Tankha said that “they need to expand the scope of security”, by also “providing lived examples of alternatives to war and conflict and by highlighting that security, justice and peace not as lofty ideals that sit in courts and behind closed doors, but as issues that are experienced and lived through the daily lives of people.” said Malini Gupta.

Public opinion makers have the responsibility to bridge the gap of communication between the public and the decision makers, this responsibility must come from their capacity to also deal with these issue. “They need to communicate much more thought schools, TV programs, films, printed media, articles, theatre and poetry” said Marta Ferrari. Opinion makers must make leaders more accountable to the consequences of their actions and policies , and must raise the awareness in the public, so that the greater knowledge of the public leads to a more intelligent public opinion, which subsequently creates pressures and can lead to a change in the way political leaders tackle the problem of security.

Peace as a Process

One day I wake up in the morning and say, “It is such a nice day, why shouldn’t all days be so. Why not?! From today I like peace, so I want peace”. Have I then achieved peace? I think you are still quite far. Neither personal nor communal or international peace has defining/declaring moment. Both internal and external peace are a process of continuous dynamism where different problems, factors, situations, confrontations are explored with a proactive approach to peaceful solution.

Many assume that peace is an ‘absence’ – if this is not there we have peace – and they always connect it with direct violence. Peace however is not an absence, for an absence implies stagnation, but a dynamic process in which conflicts would occur but violence will cease.
If you go to a warlord, or to a government that has just declared war or a rebellious group and ask them: “why are you fighting?” Most of them will have the same answer “to have/be-in peace”. But violence has never brought positive and lasting peace but only an illusion of security.

There are three outcomes to a conflict: either we both loose, one wins and the other looses or a third more creative outcome – we both win. History has taught us that no violent conflict, neither latent or open, has ever had a winner and a looser in a long term; ultimately both loose, just some at a lower degree than the other and now in this interrelated world we have reached a point that either we all win or we all loose.

War before being outside, is inside us. The real roots of violence are inside us. They are in our arrogance, in our way of approaching life, of understanding life, in our desires, in our desire to grab and even in our relationship. The last century has seen an increase in the degree of violence even if the number of wars decreased, and this increase in violence has come in the countries which had the least wars in their nation state. This, according to Tiziano Terzani, “has come from our isolation from the others, from life, from ourselves and nature. If war is ignited from within us, then we need to start working from there”


Buddha said “hate only creates hate. Only love can terminate hate”. Maybe he was right. According to Terzani, the love of which Buddha speaks about “is not that outward directed feeling towards that who did violence, but it is that inward search of the humane in us. It is in this feeling that comes from understanding our uniqueness in a larger web of relationship; it is in the understanding of interdependence, of a relationship between us humans and us humans with nature, and the joy of life which is created by this relationship, that we can really generate in us the love for life and the love to see life grow around us”

There is a knowledge gap in the awareness of the public opinion on the causes and effects of war, of the meaning on security and as such the capacity to differentiate between sustainable measures of security or non-sustainable and what factors create such security. Opinion makers have the responsibility of educating the public, of bringing the public opinion to a higher level of understanding and make them understand the necessity of creating peace through justice and the overcoming of fears. Without this, security will only remain a promise of the political system, which will often lead to the path of covering injustices, increase fears and instruments of violence and finally we will reach war; which is the destruction of all securities and values of peace. When the public opinion is well informed the political system will make more just choices.

Peace creates life, violence leads to death. Security must promote life and share the joy to live this life. The real foundation of security is education. Isaac Asimov said “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”, i would say, “violence is the first refuge of the ignorant and the last for the knowledgeable.”

“The only revolution which we must work for and hope for is the one starts within, it is our our path of being human again” – Tiziano Terzani.


Special thanks to all my friends who took time off to asnwer questions which gave me the possibilty to write this paper and to Stefano De Santis for his guidence and very important thoughts 🙂

1. Youtube – (Tiziano Terzani)
2. Dammapada
3. My Experiments with Truth – M.K. Gandhi

5. Bruce Schneier, Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World, Copernicus Books, pages 26-27

This entry was posted in Essays, Peace Research, Thoughts and Concepts, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Vagueness of Security – on what factors does it really depend?

  1. ntdbp says:

    Very interesting paper. These questions about security is also a difference between Bhagavad Gita’s and Buddhism because it is linked to the point of view about action. A complex system has only one goal: explore all the possibilities allowed. So searching absolute security is likely a mistake. We are always just between Appolo and Dyonisos.

    • faustoaarya says:

      Thank you. I completely agree with you that there is a difference between the Buddhist, middle path approach, and the Bhagvad Gita’s dharma understanding when it comes to the right action. Likewise many other schools of thought. Absolute security according to me is mistaken because it is funded on an unreal conception of a desired reality. Security is not something we can have, but something we need to create. We are actors in a process of security, not spectators.

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